#Thursday #Quotables

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“Those two, in paradise, were given a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. There was no third alternative. Those idiots chose freedom, and what came of it? Of course, for ages afterward they longed for the chains.”

— Yevgeny Zamyatin, WE

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BINGE by Tyler Oakley discussion

My evaluation of Binge may be elevated due to reading it immediately after Connor Franta’s A Work In Progress, but I found it to be hilarious and excellent. For me, Binge was more akin to one of Bill Bryson’s memoir-esque books which featured humorous anecdotes from the authors life.

With Binge I was laughing quite frequently.

binge.jpgSome people will find the humor to be very mature – but Oakley is not out to make himself look like some angelic, perfect person. The crudeness of some of the humor made the book relateable.  Perhaps the best part of this book is that the stories in Binge did not hinge on knowing much about Oakley’s YouTube career. This, I feel, was one of those books written by a famous person that was done correctly.

There were a few sections in the book that I found annoying (for instance that list of 20 things Tyler would do if he were Beyonce for a day) but these annoying parts were short and when I re-read this book in the future, I’ll know to skip them.

Overall, Binge was a joy to read, and if Oakley decides to write another book in the future – I’ll pick that one up too.  I recommend Binge IF you can tolerate adult humor – otherwise, skip it.

 

A WORK IN PROGRESS by Connor Franta discussion & review

I’m not going to sugar-coat this; this “memoir” is absolute shit.

ABSOLUTE SHIT. *insert shit emoji here*

I read this in one sitting and my first reaction was to announce to my roommate that this particular book was “trash”.

work in progressI honestly didn’t know what I was expecting when I decided to read this “memoir” of a 22 year old (at the time when the book is written) YouTube celebrity. This book is nothing more than page after page of cliche’s stacked on top of each other – then Mr. Franta has the naive audacity to try to insinuate that he has some sort of “wisdom” to impart at his young age.

What he believes to be ‘wisdom’ the rest of the world would call “arrogance”.

I TRIED to find something redeeming about this book… something, anything that I could say about it that was positive, but I drew a blank.

Unless you are a fan, I’m not sure who would enjoy this book. My dislike for this “memoir” has nothing to do with Connor being a YouTube celebrity, in fact I actually enjoyed Tyler Oakley’s memoir BINGE so much I was spending my nights at work recounting parts of Oakley’s memoir to my co-workers because they were so damn funny.

What A Work In Progress lacks is any real introspection. Franta frequently glazed over events in his life and had a tendency to try and use his book as a platform to preach the “stay positive” gospel to his readers. Although he labels this book a “memoir” it can more accurately be described as a terrible rendition of a self-help book.

Maybe this is what his audience wanted, but for the general public over the age of, lets say, 30 nothing in this book is even worthwhile.

Skip this monstrosity.

I’m breaking my rule of not rating non-fiction books with this one and saying that this is a blatant one out of five stars.

THE BRIGHT HOUR; A MEMOIR OF LIVING AND DYING by Nina Riggs discussion

Nina Riggs is diagnosed with breast cancer – initially considered to be rather benign in nature, the spot of cancer resist’s treatment and progresses into stage four, The Bright Hour is her story.

the-bright-hour-9781501169359_hrThe book begins when Nina is initially diagnosed with breast cancer and her initial method to cope with it – learn more about it. She remarks that when she tells people that she has breast cancer, many people respond by telling her that they know someone who also had the disease and had survived. The book is broke up in four parts representing each stage of cancer. The first part is rather melancholy in a way. There is optimism that the chemo therapy will take care of the cancer. You get a sense of Nina’s apprehension and hope throughout this section as she tries to deal with her diagnosis and initial treatment with humor and educating herself.

The book continues on with this mixture of hope, humor and heartache as the cancer takes over Nina’s body. Through the book Nina makes numerous literary references to a distant relative, Ralph Waldo Emerson (a quote of his from which the title of the book is derived) and also references to Michel de Montaigne, a french philosopher that Nina admires. Running parallel to Nina’s affliction with cancer is the story of her mother who is also has a fatal disease.

When I began The Bright Hour it wasn’t easy for me to get in to. The first half of the book felt very sporadic and directionless. I went into this memoir not knowing exactly what it was about, aside from a woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The further I got into the book, as the cancer progressively got worse the narrative becomes narrower and more focused as Nina begins to use her writing as a way to come to terms with the inevitable.

Almost 8 years ago, my own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember the apprehension and constant worry surrounding the disease as my mom went through treatment. The uncertainty as to whether the chemo was working. The constant sickness my mom had and, eventually, the slow recovery. I could recall all of this as I read Nina’s story. This memoir really made an impact when it made me consider what would have happened if my mom’s cancer had also resisted treatment and went terminal like Nina’s.

When I got to the section of the book titled Stage Four, it got tough for me to turn each page. I could not help but imagine my own mom in that very place, trying to come to terms with a terminal illness. There was that terrible ‘what if’ thought floating through my mind that I kept super-imposing over Nina’s story.  I believe this is why The Bright Hour resonates so well – many people know of someone who have had (or currently has) cancer.

There is no happy ending here. Nina was unable to see her own book published earlier this year. Nina Riggs died at the age of 39 on February 23, 2017. Consider picking this book up.

WINTER JOURNAL by Paul Auster discussion

Written from the perspective of his body reflecting on the events in his life, Paul Auster’s Winter Journal is a rather intimate piece of a person reflecting on their life. Winter Journal is a recounting of Auster’s life from his earliest memory to the present. The book opens with a paragraph that let’s you know that there isn’t exactly anything extraordinary about Auster’s life, however despite the rather ordinary life being lead, Auster presents it in such a fascinating way that keeps you interested.

You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen to everyone else.

Winter JournalWinter Journal is my first introduction to Paul Auster’s writing and I’m pleased to state that he did not disappoint with this narrative. I enjoyed the book, from the reminiscing about his childhood, to how Auster lists all the places he’d lived through his life and the troubles and tragedies that he’d gone through as he aged.

Since this book is written in the second person, it takes a bit to get used to, but once that aspect of the book becomes familiar I no longer noticed the peculiar perspective as the book went on. This book also features paragraphs that go on for several pages* as Auster recounts major events of his life. Initially intimidating, these blocks of text were not tough to get through and added to the over all atmosphere of the book.

What is so incredibly memorable about this are Auster’s occasional introspection’s about his own craft; writing. In one part, Auster compares writing to a form of dance. These are the aspects of the book that I tended to gravitate towards and enjoy the most.

Writing begins in the body, it is the music of the body, and even if the words have meaning, can sometimes have meaning, the music of the words is where the meanings begin….Writing as a lesser form of dance.

Although an autobiography of sorts, I couldn’t help but wonder as I went through the book if Auster was attempting to build a caricature of what it means to be an American using his own life as an inspiration. Although many of the events that take place in this book are, obviously, events exclusive to the author; in many cases it felt that Auster intentionally tried to make some of the experiences universal in nature. It seemed as if he were trying to say, ‘despite this happening to me, this is an event that is shared time and time again by people across this nation.’

If you enjoy Paul Auster’s work and haven’t picked up Winter Journal, I would recommend it. I’m not sure if this book would be for everyone, but I found it to be a great introduction to Auster’s writing.

*I should note that I mistakenly picked up a LARGE PRINT edition of Winter Journal at a used book store and therefore I am unaware how exactly this book was laid out in it’s other editions. There were no chapter breaks and the text often went on for several pages with no paragraph breaks.

BRAIN ON FIRE by Susannah Cahalan discussion

Brain on Fire is brilliant; a book that I now consider a ‘must-read’. Although Brain on Fire is a memoir, it is so much more than that. This book is also a public service announcement that should become required reading across the US until the disease discussed in the book becomes more widely known. Although technically a memoir, this book could more accurately be considered a case study written in the first person, a case study about a little known disease that needs more public awareness.

Susannah Cahalan is a journalist for a New York publication. She is a young professional woman with a stable job and a promising future. Cahalan, however, for unknown reasons begins to experience symptoms – sensitivity to light, mood swings, slight hallucinations, speech impediments among others that she can’t explain. After seeing a doctor about this initially, she is told it is due to excessive partying; alcohol withdrawals. One of her doctors speculates that what Cahalan is experiencing are caused by her birth control, still another believes these symptoms are the result of too much stress.

brain on fireInitially, Cahalan is skeptical of all of these possible diagnoses and attempts to diagnose herself with having, what she believes, is bipolar disorder. This self diagnosis, Cahalan reasoned, provided an explanation for a majority  of the symptoms that she was experiencing. Initially she was content with this, however her condition worsened. Her mood swings began to get more and more extreme to the point that she was taken to a hospital to be examined. Numerous tests were run on her, and they all came back displaying that Cahalan’s health was normal, despite the severity of her symptoms.

Through a series of events, she is eventually hospitalized. Her initial doctor is so perplexed with her, that he eventually hand’s off her case to a different doctor. This new doctor, Dr. Souhel Najjar was able to discover what really was going on with Cahalan and provide her with a diagnosis, a rare auto-immune disease, then provide a treatment that ultimately saved her life and returned her to a version of normal of her previous self.

This book helped to demonstrate the continued weaknesses of modern medicine – that despite our best abilities, there are still illnesses out there that, despite being prevalent, we know little to nothing about. What appears to be one thing – a mental illness, could very well be something much different. Even Cahalan’s initial doctor was perplexed by her ailments, and since he was unaware of the existence of the disease that effected Cahalan, he had no frame of reference to use in order to diagnose her.

“In the spring of 2009, I was the 217th person ever to be diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Just a year later, that figure had doubled. Now the number is in the thousands. Yet Dr. Bailey, considered one of the best neurologists in the country, had never heard of it. When we live in a time when the rate of misdiagnoses has shown no improvement since the 1930s, the lesson here is that it’s important to always get a second opinion.

While he may be an excellent doctor in many respects, Dr. Bailey is also, in some ways, a perfect example of what is wrong with medicine. I was just a number to him (and if he saw thirty-five patients a day, as he told me, that means I was one of a very large number). He is a by-product of a defective system that forces neurologists to spend five minutes with X number of patients a day to maintain their bottom line. It’s a bad system. Dr. Bailey is not the exception to the rule. He is the rule.”

This is why I believe this book should be required reading, because until more are aware of this disease, it will continue to be misdiagnosed until awareness grows.

#Thursday #Quotables

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There are no principles, only events; there are no laws, only circumstances: a superior man espouses events and circumstances the better to influence them. If fixed principles and laws really existed, countries wouldn’t change them as often as we change shirts. One man can’t be expected to show more sense than an entire nation.

— Honore de Balzac, Father Goriot

Read more at http://www.notable-quotes.com/b/balzac_honore_de_ii.html#ef3Am87lDhH8ydop.99

THE FOLDED CLOCK: A DIARY by Heidi Julavits discussion

I’m not sure how to categorize The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits since it essentially exists somewhere in the realm between memoir, diary and experimental non-fiction (if that’s a thing). This is one of those plot-less books that is enjoyable in the moment, but leaves you with nothing in the end. There is no real way to say what this book is about since Julavits weaves multiple narratives from her life together arbitrarily that have little to do with each other.

folded clockThere was really only one thing that I took from this book and that was, a simple way to begin a journal entry is to use the word “today…” followed by the days events. That was the only commonality that ran through the entries that made up The Folded Clock, and it got horribly repetitive. In fact, if there was a way to accurately describe this book, the words “horribly repetitive” would be it. In retrospect, I wish I had recorded how often Julavits mentions that she shares a birthday with Adolf Hitler.

In short, The Folded Clock, if taken in bits and pieces, is enjoyable however if you go into this book expecting to get any insights on ANYTHING you’ll be gravely disappointed. If you are into hearing someone ramble on and on about events in their life that are, ultimately utterly pointless – this is the book for you. If that isn’t your thing, I suggest skipping this one altogether.

H IS FOR HAWK by Helen Macdonald discussion

When Helen Macdonalds father dies unexpectedly on a London street, she is overcome with grief. This is to be expected, however Macdonalds form of coping with this grief is anything by traditional.

hisforhawkMacdonald is a falconer – a person who trains or hunts with birds of prey. As the title of the book suggests, the bird of prey that Macdonald goes out to train is a goshawk. Macdonalds particular goshawk is named Mabel. As Macdonald trains Mabel, she also explores the work of another falconer; T. H. White, a writer most well known for his novels that, published together are called The Once and Future King.

In short, H is for Hawk is quite the complex memoir, despite its numerous topics that center around training a goshawk the overarching theme that runs through this book is how a person dealing with a lot of grief due to loss attempts to deal with it. Mabel becomes Macdonalds tool for handling – or at least distracting her from – the loss of her father.

At times when reading this book I felt that Macdonald had taken on too much between the T. H. White analysis, the falconry and the death of her father. I spent much of the time reading this wondering how Macdonald was going to tie up all of these topics – and after finishing up the book I do wonder if she had.

This is one of those books that becomes easier to like IF you can relate to the type of grief that Macdonald is experiencing. The dark, bleak atmosphere that is set in this memoir can be off=putting if you as a reader don’t have a relateable experience. This is a book that isn’t for everyone, the writing and the story is superb, but liking or disliking the book may largely depend on whether you have the ability to relate to the emotions that Macdonald writes about.

M TRAIN by Patti Smith discussion

Unlike Just Kids where Smith presents a rather linear story about her life and relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, M Train is much more stream of consciousness – a compilation of recollections of Smith’s life and travels as she recalls them from her favorite seat in her favorite coffee shop. The title of the book could almost be thought of as “Memory Train” as each section Smith takes you with her on a trip into her past.

mtrainHer memories in this memoir revolve around person’s, places and things. This is an aspect of this memoir that I found particularly fascinating. Many memoirs tend to focus on interactions with people, pets or places the author has been, however Smith recognizes that objects often hold with them the memories that we associate with them. In M Train one of those objects is a novel by Haruki Murakami that captures Smith’s imagination to the point that it influences her travels.

Admittedly I enjoyed the linear style of Just Kids more than the stream of conscious style found in M Train – the truth is, it feels like I got to know Smith much better in M Train despite this preference. M Train was far more introspective than Just Kids. Smith allows you into her life in M Train, allowing far more emotion than what was provided in her other memoir.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about M Train is the difference in style – especially if you are going into it with the expectation of reading something similar to Just Kids.  The stories in M Train are connected, so you will not be entirely deprived, however, of a linear story.

M Train, just like Just Kids are two books that I plan on revisiting in the future. They were both too captivating for just a single read.